Welcome to UNC Colab group's home page!

About Distributed Collaboration

If you are the average computer scientist, ``distributed collaboration'' is a buzzword to you and you probably do not know much about this field. That is because it is an emerging area not associated with a large body of knowledge or even a text book! While this might be bad news if you are a practitioner, it is actually very good news if you want to be a researcher, since interesting open problems are easier to find in a new area. Moreover, it is not an entirely brand new field - it is as an interdisciplinary area giving new angles to several traditional fields. Traditional computer science has assumed that a single user interacts with a computer program at any one time. A whole range of issues emerge when you decide to violate this fundamental assumption by allowing multiple, distributed users to simultaneously communicate with a program. Research in operating and distributed systems, programming environments, user-interface frameworks, software engineering, and transaction models has started to study some of these issues, but there is much left to do. So if you have an aptitude in any of these fields (and specially in more than one of them), then this might be the area for you.

The People

This group was started by John Smith, when he introduced Kevin Jeffay and Don Smith to the idea of CSCW (Computer Supported Cooperative Work). They have not since looked back, using collaboration as a driving problem for much of their research. This initial group developed the ABC collaboration framework, which includes a distributed, hypermedia file system and a distributed shared window system. ABC was supported by a special National Science Foundation program to investigate collaboration technology. This program also funded collaboration systems developed by Dave Stotts and Prasun Dewan, who were then at Maryland and Purdue, respectively, but soon saw the light and joined UNC. They, in turn, have contributed to the spreading of the word, specially to Jan Prins and Lars Nyland, who are the newest members of the group. We expect Jim Anderson and Sid Chatterjee to soon start looking seriously at this area. Hussein Abdel-Wahab has been working with the group since its inception as an adjunct faculty member. Some of the faculty members at other universities we collaborate with are Rick Furuta, John McHugh, and John Riedl. We are also working with Bill Oliver of AFIPS, who plans to be a client for much of the software we develop. The diversity of this group has put it in a unique position to comprehensively address the broad agenda of this interdisciplinary area.

Some of the Ph.D. students who have been led into working in this area are Goopeel Chung, Brian Ladd, John Menges, Eileen Kupstas, Jon Munson, and Jaime Navon. Be sure to look at their home pages to get an idea of the kind of research topics they are investigating.

Current Projects

Some of the ongoing projects include: Collaboration Bus - composing new collaborative systems from existing single-user and collaborative systems; CAETI - investigating software infrastructure to support the development of multi-user K-12 educational applications; MMM: Multi-client Browsing - supporting enhanced browsing semantics over the WWW; Collaborative Software Engineering - building infrastructure and tools for supporting collaborative software engineering; Merging - bringing different, distributed versions of a shared object to a common state; Shared Windows - supporting efficient, multiple views of a shared window in X- and Java -based environments; and Next-Generation WWW Server - extending the web to support authorship.

Reading List

Here is an initial reading list in case you want to study this area in more depth. It is currently heavily biased by the tastes of the author of this page, but we plan to expand it when others get a chance to give their input. Check the home pages of the people working on this project for papers written by them.


If you are interested in working in this area, the courses for you are 242 - Advanced Operating Systems, 243 - Distributed Systems, 232 - Real-Time Systems, and seminar courses on collaboration.

Research Equipment

The Colab (Room 156) houses most of the equipment available to the researchers of this group. We have recently been awarded a large five-year equipment grant by the National Science Foundation to add, among other equipment, ATM switches, ten multimedia (SGI Indy) workstations, and six high-end VR (SGI Maximum Impact) machines.

Related Work at UNC

The graphics and DIRT groups are investigating VR and multimedia support for collaboration.

Related Work Elsewhere

Team Rooms , Calgary list of CSCW toolkits, Tom Brinck's CSCW pointers, Media Net , QOS Middleware for Group Applications, Object Services, World Wide Web Consortium, Supporting Accepted Business Practices on the Network (SABER), Intelligent Information Infrastructure, Distributed Clients, Garci's list of Web/Java Tools, Internet Tool Survey, Mobile Code, CORBA, Continuous Media Tookit, DARPA Intelligent Visualization and Collaboration (IC&V) Projects, NIST Multimedia and Collaboration Projects

- Last revised: Mon Nov 11 17:36:55 EST 1996 by dewan@cs.unc.edu